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Wings Over Atreia: Mentors, schmentors

Ahhh, the unadulterated bliss of traipsing about the promised land of milk and honey -- otherwise known as Atreia post 2.5. The siren call of the Empyrean Crucible, the plink of new tokens in the cube, the sounds of laughter as Daevas play with their newest cuddly little companions... what's that, you say? It is not all fluffy kittens and rainbows and sparkle ponies? *Gasp* How can that be?!

Last week, we touched on a number of the additions and improvements brought to Aion with the latest patch, Empyrean Calling. However, after the novelty of the the new features had worn off a bit, the negative impact of some of these improvements became apparent; no matter how much is put into a system, there will always be pros and cons. Such can be said of the new mentoring system.

Even while adding more to the gameplay of some, this system is taking away from it for others. Some were heard to be cursing mentoring from day one. Additionally, I venture to raise some concerns about long-term consequences that may not be considered in the rush to take advantage of the short-term gains. Sure, there are the benefits, but nothing comes without a cost. Nothing.

So what could be so bad about mentoring in Aion? Slip past the cut and I'll fill you in.

Pennies (er, tokens) from heaven

Obviously, NCsoft would like to give players more reasons to log in and fritter their time away in the virtual realm, so including a system that increases that time is sound business. That's not to say only NCsoft benefits from the mentoring system -- players get something out of it as well.

As I stated in last week's Wings Over Atreia, mentoring really shines as an opportunity for friends of all levels to group together and hang out without the lower-level friends getting cheated out of experience and loot. This is certainly a boon to those Daevas who have been trying to talk friends into donning wings and joining them in Atreia. And a larger population is not only good for NCsoft's bottom line but a boon to players who then have more companions to interact with overall. Mentoring opens up the pool of people available to help with instances and harder group quests, such as some campaigns. Who hasn't begged and pleaded for someone to help finish off Indratu (or the Asmodian equivalent in Beluslan)? Beyond giving you more help on your side of the battle lines, it also brings out more enemies to contend with! What's a PvP game without some enemies?

Lest you think only the lowbies benefit from the help of their higher-level mentors, consider the rewards available for completing mentoring quests. Pets and eternal-grade gear are just two of the options. While ideally, service to others should be its own reward (a girl can dream about a perfect world, can't she?), you can't really sneeze at some tangible "thanks" in the way of special perks and goodies.

From this angle, mentoring is definitely a benefit -- mentor and mentee both get something out of the deal. So where's the downside? What is the cost for mentoring?

Paying the piper

As I noted earlier, nothing comes without a cost. It is simply the law of the universe -- even "free" things have a cost, whether it is readily apparent or not. Some costs are immediate, whereas some are not noticed for a while. With mentoring, it is a little of both. The price for the system is exposed on two fronts, one shortly after implementation and the other more fully realized later on, although both involve a negative impact on gameplay.

Now:

Wait, didn't I just say mentoring was a benefit to gameplay? Nothing says it cannot be both -- depending on which vantage point is used. The mentoring system admittedly benefits those who are participating in it, but what of those players who actually like to work alone, plugging through the game without activating an easy button? (There really are still those who choose to play this way, I swear! I have seen them and even know some by name.) This is what the latter players found in the wake of mentoring: empty landscapes where once quest mobs roamed. Those without mentors are finding it nearing impossible to finish their own quests in open lands as high-powered Daevas blow through an area massacring everything.

Usually, multiple players or small groups can work alongside each other in the same area to obtain what is needed. By killing more slowly, they also have the added benefit of timely respawns -- just fight in one direction then work back again. Mentoring has changed all that; mentors kill so quickly that no one else gets the chance to hunt. The one exception to this is instances, since groups do not have to compete against each other. In short, those with mentors prosper and those without are... well... shorted. Some are now literally cringing every time they see wings by another player's name, knowing that their own gaming experience will suffer.

Later:

While the consequence of barren hunting grounds is immediate, the other negative impact of mentoring won't be felt until some time passes, and that's its effect on grouping. Think about it -- in an age increasingly bent on instant gratification, who isn't going to take advantage of using a mentor to help level up and complete quests? Sure, some will use it here and there, but how many more will use it near exclusively? Mentors get to keep all of their high-level skills and maintain the effectiveness of their high-level gear against the lower-level mobs. With this much power, they can tear through things pretty quickly while the mentee just kind of follows along, trying to keep up just with looting. Basically, these folks really get to sit back and coast on the coattails of their higher-level friends, and in doing so, they forfeit the opportunity to learn how to play their classes.

While admittedly, grouping can be a pain (especially trying to build a group to begin with), it is while grouping that players better learn how to play their classes. From learning how to time things to understanding the nuances of each class and their roles when working together to learning to react under pressure when things get difficult, players build skill and confidence while grouping. This is how you learn the little intricacies of Aion's group mechanics. All the players who speed-level under the power of mentors are going to find themselves at a disadvantage when trying to do high-level content. And who really wants to group with a healer or tank who doesn't have a good understanding of his own class? Few have the patience or desire to group with a clueless character.

Basically, the mentoring system -- if used irresponsibly -- is going to lend to an upswing in incompetent players. And what's the point in having more companions to play with if you would rather gouge your eyes out with a kerub then group with them? Before long, you are subjected to people whining in LFG chat that they can't find groups, followed by the threats of rage-quitting and general trollery. Oh, the joy.

The final word

So what's the verdict -- are mentors a godsend or a blight? Yes, mentoring can be a great thing, boosting some parts of gameplay and enjoyment. I am certainly not calling for an end to mentoring! After all, I have my eyes set on a couple of those pet eggs (new pack pet woo!). But like most things in life, this system has disadvantages that need to be recognized. By acknowledging the cost, we may be able to negate some of the negative consequences through considerate gaming. When mentoring, keep in mind that there are others playing besides just your mentee; don't spoil the game for others with blatant me-me-ME gaming practices; don't lay waste to everything just because you can (with the exception of the enemy, of course). The bottom line is use mentoring responsibly. Practice moderation. Friends don't let friends mentee exclusively.

Have you experienced the mentoring system yet, as either a mentor, mentee, or unwitting victim? Share your thoughts on the matter in the comments below.

Soaring through the Aionosphere, MJ Guthrie touches down weekly to bring you Wings Over Atreia. Featuring tips, guides, and general snippets of life in Aion, the column is better than Tutty-on-a-stick, ackackackackackack! Have a suggestion to share? No need to bribe a Shugo -- just send mail to mj@massively.com.

This article was originally published on Massively.